What's In a Language

I'm not the kind of person to have a lot of things I hate. My list of pet peeves is pretty small. But this particular one is such a big one, and so near and dear to my heart, that it deserves a blog post.

Whenever I speak Japanese to Japanese people, because of the level I'm at, I tend to get a reaction of shock and surprise. That I can understand; it's a language that not many foreigners in the world decide to learn, and of those who do try to learn it, the number who master it to a competent degree is very small indeed. They just don't expect you to have proficient Japanese coming out when you open your mouth, and I get it.

However, the problem comes when that surprise & shock stays a defining feature in all your conversations.

They come up and approach you in Japanese, you say something back, and they start saying how unbelievable it is that you're speaking Japanese.

You're chatting and you say something 'native', maybe slang or expressions that Japanese people would use themselves, and the conversation derails because they're now talking about, "Wow, you even know that!"

The worst is when you open your mouth and make some comment and they all start laughing and looking at each other. And not because what you've said is wrong or weird. Because you're speaking normal, everyday Japanese.

And this is all after knowing each other for weeks, after them having supposedly got over the fact that you speak their language in the first place. At the point when you're just trying to get to know them and become friends and act like a normal human being in a conversation, using a language as a tool for communication.

It would be like finding a person who, when they found out I'm from the UK, started talking to me in English. And then me commenting on their English ability, not their conversation or their questions or their hobbies or their personality... every. single. other. sentence.

I must stress this is not everyone. I've met plenty of people who, though surprised and fascinated by my Japanese ability, then happily use it to continue our acquaintance in meaningful ways. But these people who can't get over the fact that you're speaking their language... there's more I've met than I would like to admit.

So if any of you reading this have realised that you do this to people when they try to speak your language - be it Japanese, English, Thai or whatever - please don't. There's so much more to a person than their language ability. And it will stay forever hidden behind their words if you can't get past something as simple as a language.

Rant over now. Tune in next time as we resume our regularly scheduled positive broadcast.


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